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Dell XPS 13 FHD (2013)

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What's hot: Top quality materials, attractive, nice 1080p display, excellent keyboard.

What's not: Still no SD card slot, HDMI requires adapter, battery life is middle of the road, no touch screen (some of you might see that as a plus!).

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Reviewed March 13, 2013 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

We're no strangers to the Dell XPS 13, and you probably aren't either. One of the features we'd wished for when we reviewed the first generation model was a higher resolution display option; say 1600 x 900. Well Dell has done even better and the new XPS 13 FHD model features a 1920 x 1080 IPS display. That's a lot of pixels for a 13.3" display and the panel has 178 degree viewing angles and a wider color gamut. In other respects, the XPS 13 FHD is largely the same as the non-FHD model. It shares the same casing (no complaints here, it's a lovely piece of hardware), very good backlit island style keyboard and Intel ULV Core i5 and i7 CPUs.

Dell XPS 13

The only drawback is that this isn't a touch screen, nor is there pen input. Windows 8 begs for a touch screen when navigating the Live Tile UI and when working with gestures, but you'll have to rely on the Cypress glass trackpad (not one of our favorites) for gestures. That said, Dell seems to have a model for everyone, and the lovely Dell XPS 12 offers much the same in terms of features, specs and build quality as the XPS 13 with a 12.5" 1080p touchscreen. And I know there are those of you who detest touch and prefer to live in the desktop UI that mimics Windows 7: this Ultrabook is for you. Speaking of Windows 7, corporate buyers can order the machine with Windows 7, though we'd recommend that consumers go with 8 for the updated drivers and longer lifecycle for security fixes and updates.

Display

The XPS 13 FHD has a glossy 1920 x 1080 display clad in Gorilla Glass. Gorilla is a glare monster and reflections are an annoyance, but the panel is decently bright which helps to combat reflections. The updated WLED panel trounces the standard 1366 x 768 XPS 13 panel with much wider viewing angles (178 vs 80 degrees), increased brightness (350 vs. 300 nits) and it covers 72% of the Adobe sRGB color gamut vs. 45% for the lower end panel. Really, it's worth going with the FHD version of the XPS 13: the quality difference is immediately apparent! The full HD resolution makes for tiny icons and text in Windows 8's desktop mode that mimics the Windows 7 desktop. Dell ships the machine with scaling increased to make for more readable text. The Windows 8 Metro UI handles extreme high resolutions automatically and everything is easy to read.

Dell XPS 13

Options and Performance

The Dell XPS 13 comes with a small speed boost in terms of Ivy Bridge ULV Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs that are a 100MHz faster than the CPUs we've seen in recent Ultrabooks and Intel Core tablets. These are still 17 watt CPUs and it's a minor update, though we're sure you won't complain. You can order the Dell XPS 13 with an Intel Core i5-3337U 1.8GHz CPU or Core i7-3537U CPU. In either case, you'll get Intel HD 4000 graphics and 8 gigs of RAM. You can choose a 128 or 256 gig SSD (both the excellent Samsung PM830 model for good speeds). The XPS 13 FHD starts at $1,299 and the non-FHD model with a TN panel running at 1366 x 768 will remain in Dell's lineup for $999. The FHD model is available now on Dell's website. The top of the line model with a Core i7, 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig is $1,599. $300 isn't chump change to some folks, but honestly if you can afford it, I would go with the FHD model. It isn't just the resolution bump that makes for sharper text (though tiny text in desktop mode), but the much wider viewing angles and improved color gamut make for a much better experience.

Dell XPS 13

Benchmarks

3D Mark Vantage: 4517 (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, 8 gigs RAM)

Windows Experience Index:

Processor: 6.9
RAM: 7.4
Graphics (desktop): 5.5
Graphics, 3D: 6.4
HDD: 8.1

PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table

Dell XPS 13 (FHD, 1.7GHz Core i5) 4517
Dell XPS 12 (Core i5) 4678
Samsung Series 9 4448
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch (Core i5) 4670
Sony Vaio Duo 11 (Core i5) 4772
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 (Core i5) 4427
Asus Taichi 21 (Core i7) 4952
Microsoft Surface Pro 4657

 

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Dell XPS 13 Video Review (2013 model with FHD Display)

Otherwise, You're Looking at the Same Old XPS 13 (and that's not a bad thing)

In other respects, this is the same as the XPS 13 1366 x 768 model with an aluminum lid, carbon fiber bottom and magnesium alloy keyboard deck with a soft touch finish. It has Intel dual band WiFi with WiDi wireless display, Bluetooth 4.0, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort and a 3.5mm audio jack but no SD card slot or Ethernet. It's slim and light at 3 lbs. and good looking. It's also sturdy as all heck and can take some punishment.

Build quality, fit and finish and even the box are top notch. The XPS 13 weighs 3 pounds, which is average for Ultrabooks and lighter than the marginally smaller XPS 12. It's 0.24" at its thinnest point up front and 0.71" at the rear. The laptop looks like a Dell when it comes to the black keyboard deck and fondness for curves. The lozenge-like aluminum lid is very attractive, though MacBook Air derivative. The tapered sides make for a slim look and feel, and the carbon fiber that covers the bottom and wraps around the sides looks and feels simply wonderful. It's got a soft touch feel that's grippy.

Like its predecessor, the new XPS 13 has surprisingly good audio courtesy of two 1.5 watt stereo speakers. It uses Waves MaxxAudio 4. It had more than enough volume to fill a large living room with sound when we watched movies and it wasn't in the least bit hissy or shrill at higher volumes. That said, this is a small notebook, and bass is barely there.

Ports

Dell's not an All Star here,: there's no SD card slot, Ethernet port or HDMI port that sometimes make an appearance on other Ultrabooks. The laptop has two USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm combo audio and a Mini DisplayPort that can drive monitors higher than 1080p resolution. The machine has Intel Advanced N dual band WiFi with Bluetooth and it has Intel WiDi to wirelessly use your TV as a second monitor if you have something like the $99 NetGear Push2TV. The left USB port is quite close to the charging port and headphone jack, and we couldn't use one of our chunkier SD card readers with the charger plugged in.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The Dell XPS 13's Chiclet keyboard is top notch, with good key travel and tactile feedback. The keys are relatively roomy given the 13.3" chassis, with an ergonomic shape that helps keep your fingers on the keys. The white backlighting is very even with little light bleed from the key edges. For writers, this is a heavenly keyboard.

The Cypress glass trackpad hasn't improved much since we reviewed the first generation XPS 13. Simple finger tracking works decently, though it occasionally seems to stall when tracking finger movement. Windows 8 swipe gestures are reliable and multi-touch isn't as solid as we'd like. We hope driver updates will improve trackpad performance.

Battery Life

Dell claims up to 9 hours of battery life on a charge with the internal 47 WHr, 6 cell Lithium Ion polymer battery, which is stronger than touch screen Windows 8 touchscreen convertibles. In our tests so far, we've averaged 6 hours on a charge. As with most Ultrabooks, the battery isn't swappable, but if you don't mind taking your Ultrabook apart (remove screws on the bottom cover to do so), you can replace the battery if it gets old and tired a few years down the road.

The charger itself is the usual very compact brick and it uses a 3 prong plug like most Windows PC chargers. The Dell has a smart battery indicator on the right side: press it and the four LEDs will give you an idea of remaining charge even if the laptop is off.

Conclusion

The Dell XPS 13 FHD is a solid pick for business and home Ultrabook buyers who don't want a touch screen. It uses top quality materials, is put together with excellent fit and finish and it's a good looking machine. The updated third generation Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs deliver solid performance and the keyboard is still one of our favorites (Lenovo and Dell fight for top position). The price is competitive with other high quality Ultrabooks on the market; though it's about $100-$200 higher than comparable models from more aggressively brands like Asus with their Zenbook Prime UX31A. That said, it isn't expensive compared to the lovely Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The XPS 13 FHD is easy to recommend to those looking for a durable, stylish 3 pound portable with a great keyboard. We'd love to see Dell add an SD card slot and an HDMI port so we could ditch the fiddly adapters and card readers, but those are our only complaints. We won't bemoan the lack of a touchscreen because it's clear that Dell offers this model to those who don't want that feature, and they sell the excellent Dell XPS 12 for those who do want touch.

Price: $999 to $1,599 ($1,299 as tested)

Website: www.dell.com

 

Dell XPS 13

 

Dell XPS 13

 

Dell XPS 13

 

Dell XPS 13

 

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Display: 13.3", 1366 x 768 WLED TN backlit display and 1920 x 1080 WLED IPS quality display options. Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. Mini DisplayPort and Intel WiDi wireless display.

Battery: 6 cell, 47 WHr Lithium Ion battery (sealed inside). 45W compact world charger included. 5 LED battery charge level indicator on notebook's side.

Performance: CPU options: 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U, 2GHz Intel Core i7-3537U processor. Intel QS67 chipset. 4 or 8 gigs DDR3L 1600MHz RAM (soldered to motherboard) and 128 gig or 256 gig mSATA 3 6Gbps SSD drive (Samsung PM830).

Size: 12.4” x 8.1 x .24-0.71 inches. Weight: 2.99 pounds.

Camera: 1.3MP with dual digital array mics.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers ( 2 x 1.5W, 3W total), mics and 3.5mm combo stereo headphone/mic jack. Waves MaxxAudio 4 HD audio.

Networking: Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 dual band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0 High Speed.

Software: Windows 8 64 bit.

Expansion and Ports: 2 USB 3.0 ports (one charging), Mini DisplayPort and 3.5mm headset jack.

 

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